Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Who Writes What Matters?

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink tends to lean left, sometimes far left, when it comes to Orthodoxy.  His latest piece on the concept of the modern Midrash is a strong example of this.  While it's a well-written piece and certainly addresses a need among some it also has a gaping hole in its centre.
The Midrash has always occupied a difficult place in our literature.  On one hand it's not Talmud.  There are almost no legal statements in the Midrash and on the rare occasion that they appear we are under no obligation to pasken by them.  They are almost all tales, fables, moral lessons and elucidations of verses in our holy Scriptures.  Some are practical, some are interpretive and some are simply bizarre.
However it is important to remember that all are the produce of Chazal.  They are not simply whimsical storeis written by folks with a passing knowledge in Tanach to kill a few hours on a dreary afternoon.  They continue deeper meanings that are available to those who study them properly.
This is where Rabbi Fink's piece goes wrong.  His calling the movie Noah a modern midrash, for example, is ridiculous.  Noah is not a midrash. It is a Hollywood blockbuster loosely based on the original story.  Unlike the real Midrash it is not meant to teach any moral lesson.  It does not hesitate to alter the original story, eliminating or introducing new characters where the writers felt like it.  Like The Ten Commandments it may be a breathtaking piece of film making but it is not an accurate representation of events as they were.
Therefore his next conclusion that we need to be writing modern midrashim also needs to be taken with a large grain of kosher salt.  As noted above, the midrashim were written by Chazal, men who had the entire Torah, Written and Oral, at their mental fingertips.  They were also the inheritors of centuries of tradition.  Is there anyone alive today who is even close to that level?
Ironically I could answer that anyone who might be would also never dare consider writing a new midrash.  Once they have achieved that level of knowledge they are well aware of the complexity of the original and how silly it would be to try and reproduce that with any authority.
Perhaps it's the egalitarian age that we live in that has gotten to Rabbi Fink.  Years ago I read an interview with the author of a piece of fiction called The Red Tent.  It is an account of the story of Dinah and what happened to her at the hands of the wicked Shechem.  Naturally it was all made up by the author.  The title of the book is one such invention.  In her mind she recoiled from the idea that menstruating women were seen as somehow unclean during the time of our Avos and created the "red tent" that such a woman would be banished to.  In typical liberal fashion the interviewer and interviewee proceeded to criticize our Avos for doing such things even though those things were all the fabrication of the author!  At the end the interviewer wrote that she thought that this book was the same thing as Midrash since it was a person taking a sparse story from the Torah and fleshing it out.
Kind of like having the personal support worker from the nursing home performing an emergency appendectomy in the local hospital because, well the surgeon works in health care and he works in health care so why can't he also operate?
We must remember that real life is not so egalitarian.  If modern LWMO's want to invent stories to fulfill their need to have the Bible reflect their views then let them but don't call it Midrash.  That's simply not honest.

1 comment:

RAM said...

Already in the 1970's, there was a fashion among the Reform and Conservative intellectuals to offer up subversive modern "midrashim". Adding imagery and traditional trappings to a bad idea doesn't make it good.